2nd Avenue Theatre

35 - 37 2nd Avenue,
New York, NY 10003

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Additional Info

Previous Names: Kessler's Theatre, Molly Picon Theatre

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2nd Ave Theatre

David Kessler’s 2nd Avenue Theatre opened on September 14, 1911 and was the first of the Yiddish theatres to open along the ‘Rialto’. Many important Yiddish artist’s served their apprenticeship and gained experience in their art under the infuence of David Kessler; among these were Maurice Schwartz, Bertha Gerstein and Celia Adler. He also established standards for acting and taste for better plays among actors and public.

Kessler’s Theatre also screened movies and is listed in the 1914-1915 edition of American Motion Picture Directory. Its location being given at S.W. 2nd Avenue and E. 2nd Street.

In 1924 an ailing Thomas Adler appeared in Gordin’s "The Stranger". It was his final performance and two years later the theatre was used for his funeral service. An estimated crowd of between 150,000 and 200,000 packed the street to view the cortage as it made its way along the Lower East Side - pausing briefly at each of the Yiddish theatres.

Molly Picon joined Jacob Kalich, Celia Adler and Aaron Lebedeff in a celebration of ‘The 75th Anniversary of the Yiddish Theatre’ which was staged at the 2nd Avenue Theatre in 1953. The theatre went dark soon afterwards and in 1958 it was demolished for a parking lot. By 2017 a new building on the site houses an Unleashed Dog Wash business on 2nd Avenue and a parking garage on E. 1st Street.

Contributed by Ken Roe, Rollingrck, bamtino

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 6, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Hey Lost, what was the other downtown theatre being mourned according to that Times article?

Judith Thissen
Judith Thissen on November 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Probably Thomashevsky’s National Theater. Both Yiddish theaters had a main auditorium for legitimate drama (2000 seats) and a 1000-seat rooftop theater for movies & vaudeville. If there was a strike in the Yiddish theater, the managers would sometimes switch to movies in the main theater in order to break the strike.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 6, 2007 at 8:39 pm

The photo that KenRoe posted above would appear, on first glance, to show the theatre under the Molly Picon name. However, I think what we’re seeing in that image is the very prominently displayed top billing for Ms. Picon in the 2nd Avenue Theatre’s current production at the time.

Judith Thissen
Judith Thissen on November 6, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Molly Picon was the theater’s top star in those days and probably controlled it with her husband-manager (a common practice in the Yiddish theatrical business since the late 19th century). Yiddish theaters were frequently named after the star-manager, so it is not be unlikely that for a few seasons it was known as Molly Picon Theater or Molly Picon’s Second Avenue Theater.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I found some New York Times articles about the re-naming of the Jolson Theatre (2nd Avenue & 59th Street) the MOLLY PICON in 1942.

The 1930 production of THE GIRL OF YESTERDAY took place at the Folks Theatre (Village East), and it was never renamed but became know as the MOLLY PICON FOLKS Theatre in 1931 anyway.

I cannot find any proof this theatre was ever named MOLLY PICON or that it showed movies past 1915. Does anyone know what years THIS 2nd Avenue theatre showed movies?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 12, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I wonder if we have the correct address for this theatre. A NY Times article from 1958 (as posted about by Lost Memory a number of years back) notes the theatre was demolished and replaced by a parking lot. However, if you look at the street view above (which is currently facing the wrong side of the street and must be swung around show to the west side of the avenue), the structure that currently occupies the address range of 35-37 2nd Avenue (mid-block, to the left of the red painted Heartbreak Restaurant) appears to date back far earlier than 1958. The building that is now occupied by the Heartbreak currently has an East 2nd Street address. It’s possible that this structure sits where the auditorium of the 2nd Avenue once sat and replaced, in turn, the parking lot that had first replaced the theatre.

There is an undated “early 20th Century” image on this page (just scroll down a little), depicting several marquees along lower 2nd Avenue. On the lower left side of the image, one can make out marquees for the Woolworth Theatre aka Majestic, Photoplays aka New Law and just beyond that, a marquee advertising “Tickets” that just might be the 2nd Avenue Theatre. Any takers on that idea?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Looks like the street view has been corrected to the right side of the street. Also appears as if I need to get my eyes checked. If you zoom in close enough to the light grey door just to the left of the Heartbreak Restaurant building, the street number “33” can be seen near the bottom of the door. That would mean the building housing the Heartbreak would have been on the lot for 35-37 Second Avenue, where the 2nd Avenue Theatre once stood.

HatchingCat on December 16, 2017 at 6:51 pm

If you look on the old tax maps for New York City, you will see that the actual building for the Second Avenue Theatre was on East 1st Street, just behind #19-31 Second Avenue. The long, L-shaped entrance to the theater was at 33-35 Second Avenue. http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/60914/23++Broadway++E++8th+St+++Second+Ave+++E++Houston+St/New+York+City+1909+Vol+1+Revised+1915/New+York/

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